Have you ever been given a great honor, only to find out it came with a lot of difficulty? I think of the person who has received the long awaited promotion, only to realize his new job not only comes with more pay, but more responsibility, difficulties and sacrifices. I think of the person who is seeking after God with all his heart, the person God singles out and chooses to be used by Him…only to suffer greatly and question God.
There is a great misconception when it comes to following Christ. Somehow over the years the western world has come to believe that if you are a Christian you shouldn’t have to suffer. Things will be made easy for you and you will succeed. However, the Bible is clear when it comes to suffering. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:12-13, ESV).”
C.S. Lewis said, “We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, 'Blessed are they that mourn.'” Lewis also said, “The real problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why some do not.” Martin Luther said, “They gave our Master a crown of thorns. Why do we hope for a crown of roses?”
We may talk about Paul more in a later post, but I want to start with him today. Paul is a person I greatly admire. His teachings impact my heart and my life. Paul was formerly known as Saul, a very religious man who persecuted the early church. He was not a good man. In Acts chapter nine we read about His dramatic conversion to Christianity. He was on his way to Damascus to capture people who followed Christ and bring them to Jerusalem to be dealt with, but Jesus met him on the way and his life was never the same.
God told a man named Ananias to go and meet Saul, now called Paul. He was to lay his hands on Paul’s eyes so that Paul could regain the vision he lost during his encounter with Jesus. Ananias didn’t like this; he knew who Saul was and what he had come to Damascus to do. “But the Lord said to him [Ananias], ‘Go, for he [Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name (Acts 9:15-16, ESV).’”
God would indeed use Paul to accomplish great things for His Kingdom. Paul would indeed suffer greatly. He was stoned, he was beaten, he was shipwrecked, he suffered physical illness, and he suffered from “a thorn in his flesh” that kept him humble – among other things. He despaired of life itself at times, yet God used him powerfully. God’s still using the words He inspired Paul to write all those years ago to impact people today.
It boggles my mind how God can use the weak and the insignificant to do great things. 1 Corinthians 1:28-30 (The Message) reads, “Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ.”
This is the encouragement we can take from God’s Word: No matter who you are or what you suffer, God can use you to do great things for Him and for His Kingdom. In fact, those whom God chooses will often suffer more than most. John Stumbo puts it well when he writes, “In a…significant and personal way, every test we face can be a personal encounter with God the Father, Son, and Spirit. Our mysterious God reveals more of Himself to us through hardship than in any other way I know. You don’t have to like your personal test, but you will have less angst and more hope if you see the test as an opportunity to enter into new dialogue and deeper relationship with God.”
Let’s choose to rejoice in our sufferings because it just might mean that God has chosen us for something special. At the very least we have the opportunity to grow in our faith and establish a deeper relationship with our Creator-God. That alone is worth celebrating!
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” – Romans 8:18, ESV
© October 29, 2013